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Ministry seeks to give teens an ‘Ultimate Escape’ from addictive sexual behavior

HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. — It’s Wednesday night at the Hendersonville church, and guest speaker Steve Holladay has come to talk to the teenagers about … um, chocolate.
Holladay, director of a Nashville-based ministry called Ultimate Escape, invites giggling volunteers to devour giant candy bars and gulp chocolate milk.
The teens soon discover, though, that the lesson actually has nothing to do with chocolate. Rather, the focus is on a topic not often addressed at church.
“Basically, the chocolate represents the escape — the ‘it feels good; this is where I find my pleasure,’” Holladay said after the class. “In five minutes, they’re stuffed and can’t handle any more.”
Just like chocolate, addictive sexual behaviors can be extremely pleasurable and exciting, he told the teens.
“But it’s only good for a short time. Once we have all that we can hold … it produces a really yucky feeling.”
Holladay speaks from experience. He credits God and a faith-based treatment program with helping him overcome a pornography addiction. He later earned a master’s degree in counseling and completed additional clinical training in dealing with addictive sexual behaviors.
Ultimate Escape, started in 2004, helps teens develop a healthy vision of sexuality.
At the 1,400-member Hendersonville church, north of Nashville, Holladay spent two Wednesday nights speaking to parents and the next two talking to teens.
Parents have a God-given responsibility to help their children develop biblical views of sexuality, Hendersonville elder John Kester said.
But the church has an important role, too, he said.
“These are issues that many churches and youth ministries haven’t addressed in the past, and we can’t afford to remain silent any longer,” said Kester, speaking on behalf of his fellow elders.
Why introduce terms such as “fantasy,” “cybersex” and “masturbation” into a Bible class setting?
“Unfortunately, the world is bombarding our young people with unhealthy sexual messages while the church remains silent,” said Cynthia White, wife of an elder at the Columbus, Miss., church, where Holladay recently presented a weekend seminar for all ages.
A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that 42 percent of Internet users ages 10 to 17 said they had seen pornography online during the past year. Of those users, 66 percent said they had not sought out the images.
More than half of American teenagers ages 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex, according to a national survey of sexual behaviors released by the federal government last year. At his seminars, Holladay suggests to squirming audiences that the figure is about the same for teens who attend church.
As Debby Mata, a member of the Westover Hills church in Austin, Texas, sees it, “Sexuality gets a loud voice in every aspect of a teen’s life except for the church.”
“Since churches often assume that Christian kids are not having sex, it is an issue that often gets left in the dark and is never addressed, which only allows it to grow,” said Mata, executive director of Austin LifeCare, which provides character and sexuality education and teaches the benefits of abstinence until marriage.
But Mata said, “My experience is that teens are eager to soak up the information and grateful for the straight talk on a subject that they struggle with.”
Eric Tooley, a member of the Richardson East church in Texas, serves as program director for Aim For Success Inc., which offers abstinence education in schools. In his view, adults must overcome their own sexual hangups to help children.
“I believe most have guilt for a failure to deal with these issues successfully in their own lives,” Tooley said. “They then feel hypocritical for dealing with this with today’s children.”
At Hendersonville, church leaders followed Holladay’s presentations with several weeks of discussions about dating and sexual purity in Sunday morning classes, Kester said.
“Since the Ultimate Escape lessons, our congregation is doing a better job addressing these issues,” Kester said. “But we have a long way to go.”
At Columbus, youth and family minister Paul Bennett leads a Tuesday night Bible study for young men that encourages discussion and provides accountability within the group, White said. “But understanding the seriousness of this problem is leading us to rethink ministry options and consider other ways that we can address sexual issues in the future,” she said.
Ultimate Escape offers teens hope as well as healing, Holladay said, teaching that God loves his children despite their struggles and can help them overcome temptations.
“I want them to accept the love God has for them,” he said. “A lot of times, we all define ourselves by our imperfections. We fail to see that God can see beyond that.”

Steve Holladay, director of the Ultimate Escape ministry for teens, offers these tips for dealing with the issue of sexual addiction:
1. Recognize the problem — Denial prevents action.
2. Talk openly about sexuality — That dispels shame surrounding the issue.
3. Teach healthy sexuality early -— Absence of accurate information is dangerous.
4. Create a safe environment for disclosure — Acknowledge it is a common struggle, reassure that support will be provided and specify that no struggle is “too bad.”
5. Avoid judgmental reactions — They will likely prevent disclosure.
6. Look past the behavior — Sexual behavior is often a symptom, not the problem.
7. Learn about the topic — Issues involved, dynamics, resources.
MYTHS ABOUT ADDICTIVE SEXUAL BEHAVIOR: These are among the misperceptions addressed at Holladay’s seminars:
1. Sexual behavior is the problem.
2. People that struggle are bad people.
3. Being more spiritual will cure the
4. When I get married, it will go away.
5. It’s not a big deal.
6. It’s only a struggle for guys.

Additional tips and information can be found at the Ultimate Escape Web site at

Read “A Minister’s Escape from Sexual Addiction,” from April 2006.

Filed under: People

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